If you're an avid reader of this site, then you are probably familiar with some aspects of sabermetrics. We talk about sabermetrics a lot, and much of that talk revolves around projection systems. The grandfather of all projection systems is PECOTA. If you don't know already, Nate Silver, now founder of Five Thirty Eight, once was a writer for Baseball Prospectus way back in the day, and he was well known for creating an advanced baseball projection system called PECOTA, or " Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm". It was also named after Bill Pecota, as his lifetime .249 batting average was a perfectly average PECOTA projection. Silver went on to create famous election prediction models, but his child still remains as a staple of the sabermetric landscape.
And so, like every year around the same time, Baseball Prospectus has released PECOTA projections for this upcoming season. I can't divulge every bit of the data in their spreadsheet, but I can at least talk a bit about the projected standings and why they are the way they are. Below, you shall find the projected AL East standings for 2015:
Well, that's not great. According to these projections, the Yankees would be outscored by their opponents, would finish fourth in the AL East, last in True Average, and second to last in Fielding Runs Above Average. That's... not good at all. Let's go into why that is.
A disclaimer first: before you go crazy about these projections, understand that these statistical models are imperfect, and they are also very conservative. Many fans do mental accounting to assume that certain players will get better or worse; PECOTA does not do this mental accounting. It takes statistics adjusted for context and tries to make a best guess at what will happen in the future. And while there are going to be cases where it is blatantly wrong because it cannot include qualitative analysis, it is still a better guess than what we can do in our heads.
Now, on to the details. On the position player side, it looks to be as mediocre as it has been for the past few years. There look to be improvements from the likes of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and even Jacoby Ellsbury, but there are a few problems: firstly, PECOTA and FRAA do not like Chase Headley as much as Steamer and ZiPS do, and they think he is much closer to a two-win player as opposed to a four-win player. He's still a good value either way, but that's a pretty big difference. PECOTA also does not see Didi Gregorius as the shortstop of the future, and that could be problematic if he lives up to his projection.
Pitching wise, they're kind of in better shape, depending on how you look at it. CC Sabathia looks to give slightly below average performance, and I would take at this point. Michael Pineda gets the drool-worthy PECOTA comp of Madison Bumgarner, and Masahiro Tanaka gets to have an excellent year. Of course there are injury concerns, so we must take those with a large grain of salt. PECOTA also has pretty dreadful numbers for both Chris Capuano and Nathan Eovaldi, but I honestly don't believe the latter. Unless he has a habit of beating his FIP in a negative way, I find it hard that he'll have an ERA in the high-4.00's. And when it comes to bullpen projections, I wouldn't pay much heed. Dellin Betances' projections, for example, are heavily skewed because of his poor starting performances in the minors, and I even asked Editor-in-Chief Sam Miller about that:
@ihateprospects That goes about triply for Betances, because it really struggles with role conversions— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) January 28, 2015
@mattprov94 @ihateprospects We're talking about it, so hoping next year we've made progress. But...— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) January 28, 2015
@mattprov94 @ihateprospects humans have insight into skill/role compatibility that might always keep projection systems a bit behind— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) January 28, 2015
@mattprov94 @ihateprospects Also, reliever innings totals are so small it's especially hard to overwhelm hundreds of bad starter innings— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) January 28, 2015
When it comes to relievers, those are the obvious limitations, so keep that in mind.
And, I would not pay too much attention to the fact that other teams have leapfrogged the Yankees in either direction. The whole difference between the Red Sox and Yankees, for example, can be attributed to two players (Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo) that have never had a full season of major league playing time, so I wouldn't hand them the AL East title before Opening Day.
Overall, the Yankees look to be pretty mediocre even with accounting for PECOTA's limitations, but that does not mean the Yankees won't be competitive. I would assume that a lot of teams in the AL East and American League will hover around the Yankees' talent level, so barring some catastrophe, they go into the season as a peripheral contender.